That Could Have Been Me: How I Broke Free From Substance Abuse


Drugs were my way out when I was younger. As a teen I was not a happy kid, and decided that drugs were an okay way out for me. Drinking alcohol, smoking weed, using meth, and abusing prescription medications were all common activities around me, so my coping mechanism took what was available to me. I was completely comfortable in my addiction for a long time, but I eventually cleaned up, left this group of friends, and worked to stay away from drugs completely. With the help of friends, a new peer group, and a few support groups I succeeded in breaking away from the substances I used to cope.

Unfortunately for many in my home town, they were not able to make the exit from drug use that I did. Seeing old friends in jail, struggling with their health, and continuing to battle addiction is hard to watch. As a teenager, recovery was one of the hardest things I’d done. As an adult, I can’t imagine how much more difficult it must be. The people in my hometown have children, jobs, and homes to maintain through their battle with substance abuse. As a teenager I was concerned with getting caught skipping class to use, I was not concerned with trying to keep a roof over my head as a result of my addiction. It scares me how close I was to being in their shoes.

The Causes Of Addiction

The cause of addiction has been debated, and no one really understands exactly how addiction can affect one person and not another with the same biology and surroundings. However, we do know that both biology and environment have a lot to do with the way that addiction affects each person. Biologically, there is a history of addiction on both sides of my family – my mother passed away from complications resulting from her alcoholism. I was young when I began using, so my brain was not completely developed, making the chemical makeup of these substances have an easier go at rewiring the vulnerable pleasure and reward centers of my brain.

From an environmental standpoint, I lived in a small town in Montana where there wasn’t much to do and meth was a big problem much like it is in many places across the United States. I lived in a low-income area, socialized with people who used on a regular basis, and the substances I abused were always available to me. With both the biological and environmental factors, I have many similarities with my peers.

Many of them have addiction in their families, were as young as I was, were surrounded by people using, and had drugs available to them. So, why was I able to get out and they weren’t? It’s hard to say what the difference was, but it shows the unpredictability of addiction even in extremely similar circumstances.

The Stigma Of Addiction

It’s hard for me to talk about my issues with substance abuse. I don’t want my peers to have their perception of me now skewed by who I was then. I had a lot of issues, did a lot of questionable things, and was honestly just a lost girl drowning in the need to both connect with people and cope with the emotional issues I had. Using gave me both of those things – a peer group that had similar problems and a substance that masked a lot of the hurt I was feeling. I was dumb, selfish, and didn’t really feel like I was doing anything wrong for a long time. I’m much different now and I do not want to be defined by my addiction.

When the Montana Meth Project became well known in my home state, I was just learning to recover from my drug use and I kept my already shameful problem even more tucked away and dealt with my struggles internally. The effectiveness of the graphic scare tactic that the Meth Project takes in order to prevent meth use in teens has been up for debate, but they are working hard on prevention and not focusing on treatment.

For those recovering from an addiction, their strategies help to solidify the stigma already attached to drug use making it difficult for those struggling with it to speak up and seek help. I still have issues opening up about my past for fear that those I tell will assume something about me based on those ads instead of starting the discussion about the realities of addiction and how proud I am to have overcome it.

Solving The Problem

Voting on policy that focuses on rehabilitating drug offenders, supporting community projects for youths, and opening up the channels of communication about addiction are all ways to begin solving the drug problem in America. Instead of furthering the stigma about drug use, we should all be talking about it. If you suspect a loved one is using or has an issue with substance abuse, talk to them, educate yourself on rehabilitation options, and discuss treatment options for them.

It’s natural to feel angry about those who are using and addicts should be held accountable for their actions; in fact they need to in order to recover appropriately. But the act of seeking recovery or being open about issues with sobriety is a lot harder when the world sees you through a certain scarred, immoral, and gruesome lens. Instead of being disgusted by those in the grips of addiction, realize it could have been you.

The first thing you have to say in an AA or NA meeting is to introduce yourself as an addict or an alcoholic. Admitting you have a problem with substance abuse is the first step, and that step is a lot harder with the world scrutinizing you once you admit it. Understanding the factors behind addiction, the stigma attached, and what can be done to fix it puts you step above much of the population that looks at addiction as a completely selfish act instead of looking at the factors surrounding it.

In reality, drug use is inherently selfish. It’s ugly, chaotic, and hard to understand. But by starting a dialogue, encouraging communication, and working to support those having issues with addiction, perhaps it will be easier for some of the people in my hometown still struggling to finally find sobriety.